Prof. Salams legacy: TWAS – the voice for science



According to wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science) Science (derives from the Latin word “scientia”, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about nature and the universe. This language is universal irrespective of religion, region or political boundaries. Prof. Abdus Salam, Physicist and Nobel laureate, hailing from Pakistan, recognized an urgent need in the developing world for scientists to learn this universal language and become part of this universal community. The end goal would be to develop a knowledge based society which would be able to combat the indigenous challenges of hunger and disease thus alleviating poverty. To realize this dream, he laid the foundation of an academy for the promotion of science in the third world (TWAS). The main goal of this academy would be to promote science in the developing countries including his own country, Pakistan.

A knowledge-based society would be able to combat the common challenges of hunger and disease, thus alleviating poverty. Towards this end a distinguished group of scientists from the developing world, under the leadership of Professor Salam met in 1983 to delineate a strategy . The Academy was very fortunate in obtaining essential funding support from Italian scientists and political leaders who continue to this day in providing a majority of funding for its varied activities. The Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) was inaugurated officially in 1985 during a ceremony attended by UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.

Initially, TWAS had 42 elected fellows – nine of them Nobel laureates. TWAS follows a very rigorous scientific evaluation of candidates before selection of fellows. Special efforts are made to include deserving candidates from underrepresented developing and scientifically lagging countries especially the worlds 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and women without compromising on scientific criteria. Today, TWAS has 1,150 elected Fellows (10 per cednt females) from nearly 90 countries; 15 of them are Nobel Laureates. Pakistan has 25 elected Fellows. TWAS holds an annual meeting of fellows, which is the showcase of various TWAS activities. Because of the global outreach of the academy now covering all continents, and the remarkable advancement of science in several developing countries, such as Brazil, China and India to name a few, the name of this academy was changed to “THE WORLD ACADEMY OF SCIENCES for the advancement of science in developing countries” with the consensus of members in the 2012 annual general meeting. The acronym TWAS remains the same.

TWASs mission has remained consistent as stated on its website (www.twas.org)

• Recognize, support and promote excellence in scientific research in the developing world

• Respond to the needs of young scientists in countries that are lagging in science and technology

• Promote South-South and South-North cooperation in science, technology and innovation

• Encourage scientific research and sharing of experiences in solving major problems facing developing countries.

Administratively, TWAS works through several committees which all report to the TWAS Council. The TWAS Council elected by members every three years, sets the Academys broad policy and programmatic direction. The Secretariat is headed by an executive director and is located on the campus of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy. The Secretariat assists the Council in the administration and coordination of TWAS programmes.

The main activities of TWAS consists of recognition of excellent scientific work carried out in the developing world, through prizes and awards, supports visiting scientists and provide funds for regional and International scientific meetings, PhDs and post-doctoral fellowships for scientists in the developing world, providing funds for regional and international scientific meetings and TWAS Publications. TWAS holds an annual meeting of its members where prize winners and awardees give cutting-edge lectures about their research.

The 25th annual meeting (2014) was generously hosted by the Sultanate of Oman in Muscat and was one of the best attended meetings with over 450 members attending, in addition to prize and award winners including young scientists from Oman.

With the quantum of scientists attending the meeting from different countries and the benefits accruing from such a meeting to the host country, the value of hosting such an event is being recognized and scientifically lagging countries are now competing to host this event. In the last meeting, Angola and Azerbaijan both offered to host the 2015 meeting. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been able to host any of the TWAS annual meetings due to unavoidable circumstances.

TWAS has also established five regional offices to help organize activities and disseminate information. They are located in Alexandria, Egypt; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Beijing, China; Nairobi, Kenya; and Bangalore, India.

TWAS hosts and works in association with three other organizations on the ICTP campus:

The Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) was established in 1989. It was the first international forum uniting women scientists from the developing and developed worlds. Today, OWSD has nearly 4,000 members. Their objective is to strengthen the role of women in the development process and promote their representation in scientific and technological leadership.

IAP, the global network of science academies. Established in 1993 as the Inter Academy Panel on international issues, IAP unites more than 100 science academies worldwide. It provides high-quality, independent information and advice on science and development to policymakers and the public; supports programs on scientific capacity-building, education and communication; and leads efforts to expand international science cooperation.The Inter-Academy Medical Panel (IAMP). IAMP is a network of the worlds medical academies and medical sections of academies of science and engineering. It is committed to improving human health worldwide through the coordinated global action of its 70 members.

In conclusion, Prof. Abdus Salams legacy of having a global academy promoting science in the developing world is almost realized but not finished. With increasing activities and shrinking resources, this Academy needs additional support both in funding and in kind by sponsoring activities being carried out by TWAS. COMSTECH Pakistan provides some funding which is acknowledged on the TWAS website. For more information please visit the TWAS website (www.twas.org).

The first author is PhD FRC Path. TI, SI, Fellow TWAS and Regional Vice President (Central and South Asia) and Fellow IAS, PAS, PAMS, PAP (PSI), and the second author is a Professor (retd) of Microbiology, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan.

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